Legal Marijuana Arrives on the Shore: Meet Ash + Paige of Centreville

At least in some parts of the Eastern Shore, if there was a referendum held tomorrow proposing that marijuana be banned in Maryland for the next two centuries, the odds are pretty good that it would pass by an overwhelming majority. While that might be an exaggeration, it is accurate to say that the Shore, with its mostly rural and politically conservative citizens, have a very skeptical view of the use of cannabis for any reason.

But the state in which they reside had quite a different point of view as Maryland joined 29 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing the medical or recreational use of the plant. And, as a result, Annapolis has recently finalized the issuing of permits for marijuana distribution outlets.

So it may be a shock for those on the Shore to see that one of those medical cannabis dispensaries is almost ready for business in none other than Centreville, Maryland.

Found in a professional park alongside doctor offices and the YMCA, last-minute preparations are underway for the opening of Ash + Ember Cannabis, the commercial name of the store owned by Hippocratic Growth, LLC as it prepares to open its doors as the first legal venue on the Mid-Shore to legally sell medical cannabis.

Adding to this notable moment is the fact that Hippocratic Growth is actually a family business.  Sisters, Ashley Herr and Paige Colen, along with the help of other family members, led an almost four-year effort to reach this milestone. Working through state delays on licensing  and some opposition from the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners by blocking a building permit (an appeal filed by Hippocratic Growth is pending at the Court of Special Appeal), the opening of Ash + Ember has become an exciting climax to battle long waged.

Unapologetically pro-pot, the sisters see Ash + Ember as the first of many in the eventual legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and therefore have designed a business plan that will eventually transition from a medical dispensary to a well-branded boutique store that will eventually produce and design its products no differently than a beer microbrewery does today.

The Spy sat down with the owners last week at Ash + Ember to talk about this remarkable new chapter in Eastern Shore entrepreneurship.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Ash + Ember Cannabis please go here


Maryland 3.0: LaMotte Chemical Hits Paydirt

The ultimate goal of a manufacturing company is to develop a product so rare, so specific in purpose, and so difficult for competitors to replicate, that it catapults the business to a new level of profitability and growth. In truth, however, that kind of dynamic force remains elusive for the vast majority of the small manufacturers of the world.

Faced with the day to day business of holding their market position, lacking large research and development budgets, and always needing to adjust pricing to stay in the game, the small manufacturer’s real objective is to remain competitive with what they produce now rather than seek the holy grail of a transformational new product.

And since 1919, the LaMotte Chemical Company in Chestertown has been doing just that; selling high-quality testing equipment for such things as boilers, swimming pools, and drinking water. And while they have had some breakout products since the chemist, Frank LaMotte, started the business, the public perception of the company, especially as it relocated to the Eastern Shore in 1956 from Baltimore, was one of a reliable, if not particularly exciting, venture that makes a small range of products extremely well.

That might be one of the reasons the Arthur H. Thomas Company of New Jersey purchased the family-owned business in 1983. Its “steady Eddie” track record, with modest but consistent profit margins, could only be seen as a solid asset for a new parent company eager to branch out to include water testing in their portfolio of science testing equipment.

At least that was the plan as LaMotte’s president, David LaMotte (grandson of the founder), understood it, but that didn’t stop the small company from thinking about “the next great thing” in water testing. With the encouragement of Thomas, LaMotte staff continued to explore ways to use modern technology to improve the accuracy and speed of their testing methods.

Little did anyone know that after seven years of tinkering, all this effort would produce the kind of “wow” product other firms could only dream about. The development of the Waterlink Spin Touch unit has radically changed the future of both water testing and LaMotte Chemical at the same time.

Looking like an oversized CD player, and armed with specialized testing discs and Bluetooth controlled data collection, the Spin Touch can now test for up to ten different water conditions in less the 60 seconds and broadcast those results to regional and national databases just as quickly. The results have added over $12 million annually to LaMotte’s top line, created the need to add 30 new employees, build a 9,000 square foot expansion to the physical plant, and legally protect the Spin Touch’s design through the development of dozens of new patents. This success has also caused an entirely new spirit among LaMotte’s employees as they see their product become the equivalent of the iPhone for water testing throughout the world.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LaMotte Chemical Company please go here

Making it Work on the Shore: Reinventing Downtown Easton with Ross Benincasa

In years past, the role of a director of a downtown association would consist of managing and promoting a series of special events created to encourage retail shopping. Special days like “First Friday” and free concert programs have become the standard practice to bring residents and their families to their downtown districts, but is that enough in a country that soon can expect same day delivery from internet sellers?

The answer coming from Ross Benincasa, the Easton Business Alliance’s director, is a definite “no.” While special events remain important strategies, the work of promoting downtown shopping has become increasingly more sophisticated as Ross notes in his first Spy interview.

Specifically, Benincasa, the EBA Board, and Easton’s Town Council are now looking such things as downtown “walkability” improvements and studying pedestrian navigation patterns to significantly improve the experience of shopping. In fact, through Ross’ initiation, the town was the recent recipient of a $145,000 grant from Google to implement its new store view program, allowing app users to peek inside stores, restaurants, and public institutions like libraries and museums, before actually stepping into those venues. The grant also provides Easton a generous advertising budget to go into Washington and Baltimore media markets with its message.

The Spy caught up with Ross at the Bullitt House, where the Easton Business Alliance has their offices, to talk about the future of downtown Easton, its current challenges, and a very encouraging forecast that Easton is well positioned to adjust to this changing climate and maintain its position as one of the Eastern Shore’s most popular shopping hubs.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Easton Business Alliance please go here.


Maryland 3.0: WC “Dream Team” Creates Apps in NASA Competition

A group of Washington College students and faculty sat down at the beginning of May to work on “You Are My Sunshine.”

No, they weren’t rehearsing old folk songs. Instead, they were working on a NASA space challenge – an international effort to find ways to educate the public about solar power and its possible benefits both for ordinary people and for a possible exploring party on Mars.

Washington College Associate Professor Shaun Ramsey of the “Dream Team” writes data on the wall of the Hot Desks center as other team mebers watch. From left, Joseph Erlandson,, Luis Machado, Katie Walker and Ian Egland.

Taking part in the project were Ian Egland, a 2016 WC graduate in Computer Science; Joseph Erlandson, a senior Computer Science major; Katie Walker, a Senior majoring in Environmental Studies; Luis Machado, a 2013 graduate now working as a project manager at the college’s Geographic Information Systems laboratory; and Associate Professor Shaun Ramsey, of the Computer Science and Mathematics departments at Washington College.

The group began work at the “Hot Desks” co-working center  at 903 Washington Ave. Michael Thielke of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center and Jamie Williams, Kent County Economic Development Coordinator, arranged for them to use the facility before the official opening

The “Dream Team,” as they named themselves, went to work  at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 29, for a 48-hour “hackathon.” Williams and Thielke were on hand to assemble furniture for the hot desk center and to provide breakfast and other meals during the project. The team set up computers in the large main room, using the facility’s high-speed wifi connection. They even took advantage of the dry-erase walls to jot down computations, web links,  and other information for handy reference.

Ramsey said the project was related to one that NASA is conducting in Hawaii right now, simulating conditions on Mars. “In space, power usage is variable, and mission critical, and essential to life,” so understanding power consumption is essential, he said. “The app that we’re developing is for everyday people to better understand their power consumption,” he said. Since solar power is freely available in space, the project focuses on that form of energy.

The Dream Team compiled a list of several typical home appliances – refrigerator, microwave, TV, air conditioner, etc. – and listed their typical power usage. In each case, the power draw listed is an average. Older, less efficient appliances will use more than new ones designed to minimize power consumption.

They also looked at the amount of sunlight available in Kent County over different seasons, so as to get a practical estimate of what kinds of equipment could be run on solar alone.

Ramsey said the group was one of 74 different teams from all over the world that worked on their particular problem. Presumably they’d all come up with different solutions, though the teams were allowed to share ideas, and NASA might well choose to combine results from several different teams once the project was completed.

Overall, the competition had five different categories, each of which included several different projects. Ramsey said it would be several weeks before NASA announces the results.

Ramsey updated the status of the project in an email, June 1. He wrote, “In the end, we created two applications that are useful, intuitive and that showcase solar power.” He said he had three goals for the competition: “To contribute to the overall community. To make an application of which I’d be happy to claim ownership. And the last was to have something that could inspire and grow. Something that could spawn other ideas and be developed into something larger if someone were inspired or interested. I definitely feel we accomplished all three of those.”

As of the date of writing, he said, “The awards have not yet been announced. We’re not in the finalists for people’s choice, but that’s to expected with such a smaller network compared to, say, a big school in a big city. It is possible we “win” one of the other awards, but there have been no posted results yet. (…) I do feel like we will be in the running,” he said. He said he would let the Spy know when results were announced.

Ramsey said the Dream Team had posted a brief video telling about their work. They also posted an update with more details. He also provided a like to an overview of the NASA challenge.

Click here for information on the “Hot Desks” facility.

Maryland 3.0: Making Eastern Shore Towns “Cool”

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, 34, has a floor-to-ceiling erasable board dotted with Post-it notes on the longest wall of his office.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

It’s a jarring display of terrestrial organization for a millennial, but Day is hardly old school. He’s got two masters degrees, one from Carnegie Mellon in urban design and the other from Oxford in environmental policy. He is also an officer in the Maryland National Guard and a local boy whose father was recently named COO of Perdue Farms.

“There were moments when, as a 9-year-old living in Salisbury, I was thinking I really want to be mayor in this town,” said Day.

So he’s had plenty of time to think about how he’d change things in a city with a history of helter-skelter development and a stubborn crime rate.

“The biggest thing for us has been arts, entertainment and culture,” Day explained. “Recognizing that those things can be more than an ancillary benefit, but a driver has been big for us.”

Day is staring down a core problem in rural Maryland: People are dying faster than they’re being replaced, and where they’re not the numbers are trending that way. So retaining residents and attracting new ones is vital. Because creating jobs, enticing new industries and rebuilding infrastructure matters little if there’s no one around to fill those jobs, drive on those new roads or enjoy those renovated downtowns.

And cities like Salisbury, Frederick and Cumberland — small urban anchors in Maryland’s rural areas — could be where the revitalization begins.

Or where it’s already underway.

A matter of life and death

Garrett, Allegany, Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties all had more deaths than births in 2015, according Maryland’s Vital Statistics Report. Leading the way on the Eastern Shore was Kent, which had a third fewer births than deaths. In Western Maryland it was Allegany, where the disparity was 27 percent.

In Wicomico County, where Salisbury is located, the numbers are rosier. In 2015, births beat deaths by 36 percent. However, in 2010 that number was 50 percent. The same trend is there for Frederick County, where births outpaced death two to one in 2010, but slowed to five for every three in 2015.

Population problems in rural areas tend to get framed in economic terms. The argument goes that young people won’t stay if there are no jobs, but the jobs won’t come if there are no young people to fill them. But the jobs are there.

According to Maryland’s Workforce Exchange, there were more than 600 open job listings in Wicomico County, the majority of which were in Salisbury. The numbers are similar in Frederick and Allegany, with more than 500 open job listings in both counties as of late April.

“The problem is that we’re just not adding people at the same rate that we’re adding jobs,” Day said.

Part of the challenge includes boosting the quality, pay and benefits of available jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a pronounced economic shift in Salisbury over the last 10 years from producing things to delivering services — and with it, more jobs that tend to pay less and come with fewer benefits.

In order to sell employment that might not stack up salary-wise to urban areas, mayors like Day and Randy McClement in the city of Frederick are increasingly turning to what they can offer instead: quality of life.

“The thing we’ve been able to do is make Frederick a destination,” said McClement, who’s been mayor there since 2009. “We’ve done that with a hip feel. Millennials are looking for a livable, walkable city. By delivering that, we’re attracting the younger generation.”

The city of Frederick, basically the model for small to mid-size urban redevelopment in Maryland, has the luxury of being perched at the top of I-270 corridor, in commuting distance to job-rich Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County. Salisbury is more remote, and the people who live near it more reliant on its services.

When asked what Salisbury’s 33,000-odd residents needs most, Day points first to an intangible.

“The thing we struggle to overcome more than anything else is a change to our community self-esteem,” he said. “We look to ourselves in a poorer light than any metric would suggest that we should.”

Day is referring in part to Salisbury’s crime problem. According to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the city’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people in 2015 was almost double the state average, though it has fallen in recent years.

“We’ve had some dark times and those things linger,” said Day. “It’s easy to latch onto them as your identity and it’s a lot tougher to get people to believe that things aren’t so bad.”

Downtown Salisbury

To help put the past behind, Day wants to remake pretty much the entire city. And, thanks to a partnership he initiated between Salisbury and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, he has a blueprint to do it.

It focuses on the city’s urban core, dividing it into seven neighborhoods, and includes everything from streetscape redesign to newly constructed modern buildings and bridges along the city’s riverwalk on either side of the Wicomico River, which snakes west to east through Salisbury’s center.

Day is hyperfocused on the city’s physical appearance, particularly its branding and signage, but also its benches, planters and trash cans, which are not uniform at present and clearly bother the mayor’s design sense.

Salisbury’s master plan has a proposed price tag of about $640 million over 20 years, nearly 75 percent of which is meant to come from private sector investment. The plan is aggressive and maybe unrealistic, but also visionary. And perhaps no surprise from a mayor with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning.

Day is also pursuing smaller, less costly efforts at rebranding Salisbury, including being a finalist to host the National Folk Festival for three years, a 175,000-person event that takes place over a long fall weekend each year. Prior hosts include Nashville and Richmond, with Greensboro, N.C., as the event’s current location.

Finally, one of the simpler efforts Day and his team are doing is something called 3rd Fridays, where the city organizes arts and crafts vendors and live music in the city’s historic quarter.

“We had to focus on our own market first so we stopped worrying about the beaches and Baltimore and Washington for a minute and tried to figure out how to get local people to show up,” Day said.

Initial funding for 3rd Fridays the first year was around $20,000. In 2016, it was $280,000.

Given the size and scope of his efforts, it’s fair to question Day’s ability to keep all of them on track, including management of Salisbury’s 435 city employees.

But Day is a believer in using data to make decisions and runs his weekly management meetings like a military battle briefing. Each of his department heads have between four and six key metrics that they measure and then provide updates on on a weekly basis. These include things like potholes filled and lane miles paved and travel time on fire department calls.

“We’re measuring constantly and we’re making decisions based on that,” said Day, his enthusiasm growing as he drills down on yet another topic. “The weakness is the linkage to mapping. We need to reinvent our use of GIS (geographic information systems).”

Something Day will probably incorporate into his briefings soon.

by J.F. Meils

Maryland 3.0: Sprouts Starts to Take Over the Eastern Shore

Just so you know….perhaps one of the most significant “foodie” experiments in the country is taking place on the Mid-Shore.

A young couple, primarily trained in nutritional science and fitness, decide to escape the rat race of the Western Shore and relocate to Trappe to start a food delivery business dedicated to high quality prepared meals with locally sourced produce and meat.

The concept was simple. Rather than send clients the raw materials to make a nutritious meal (think Blue Apron), Sprout owners Ryan and Emily Groll would take it to the next level and actually cook the meals for its customers.

Sprout would do all the work. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack, Ryan and Emily identify local farmers within a 200-mile range that produce some of the most exquisite examples of fruit, vegetables, chicken, pork, or beef in the region to produce meals that could be left at your doorstep twice a week.

Fast-forward one year later Sprouts has become an increasingly important provider on the entire Eastern Shore as well is in Annapolis. With Ryan’s mother in Chestertown, the couple continues to seek a local partner to help as a delivery station, which they call a “Sproutlet,” but they hope to cover the entire Mid-Shore within the next two years.

The Spy spent some quality time with Ryan in his portable kitchen in Trappe to discuss the couple’s courage and conviction it took to start a business of this kind and their aspirations over the next few years.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Sprouts please go here

Easton Economic Development Corp. Awarded USDA Grant to Connect Farmers to Markets

The Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) was awarded $383,673.00 from USDA from its Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) for the implementation of “Chesapeake Harvest: Connecting Farmers to Markets” program.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $56 million in grants this week to strengthen local and regional food systems, support farmers markets, and fund organic research, including the LFPP grant for the Easton Economic Development Corporation.

“Since this Administration launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative in 2009 to coordinate USDA efforts to support local and regional food systems, there has been a dramatic increase in consumer demand for buying local,” said Vilsack. “Over the years, we’ve seen how these new market opportunities are helping to drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship in rural communities, and expand food access and choice. This latest round of grants will expand the capacity of farmers and businesses to serve this growing market, help revitalize local economies around the country, and support efforts around the country to provide fresh, healthy food to all Americans.”

Herb Miller, the Chairman of the Easton Economic Development Corporation stated, “This is a jobs machine for our Town. We are incubating several projects, which will bring more jobs to Easton. Our job is to create jobs. Chesapeake Harvest will do that by expanding market opportunities for our community.”

Chesapeake Harvest: Connecting Farmers to Markets will fund critical infrastructure and technical assistance to enable farmers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia to expand market reach, increase the supply of healthy foods to the region, and create market opportunities for small and mid‐size farmers.

Anthony “Tony” Kern, Chairman of the Chesapeake Harvest Advisory Committee and member of the Easton Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors stated, “Many people and organizations from around the community, the region and State have contributed their time and expertise to make Chesapeake Harvest, and ultimately this USDA grant, come to fruition. Chesapeake Harvest looks forward to strengthening and growing these partnerships to advance a growing local food economy that will benefit the region and the Town of Easton and it’s citizens.”

The Easton Economic Development Corporation, formed in 2013, was created to drive economic vitality, smart redevelopment, and business formation in order to foster a healthy quality of life for all generations.

Nominations Open for MCE’s 2016 Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the Year Award

DSC_0163SALISBURY –Maryland Capital Enterprises, Inc. (MCE) is now seeking nominations for their Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the Year Award which will be presented in November at the fifth annual Award Banquet.

Eligible entrepreneurs will come from five counties on the Eastern Shore, and anyone can nominate a business owner. The one page nomination form is easy to fill out and the winner will earn a $2,000 cash prize, and an engraved glass award. The deadline for nominations is September 23rd.  The form can be filled out online at MCE’s website by clicking on the “Get Involved” tab next to the Entrepreneur of the Year logo.

The goal of the award has been to raise awareness about entrepreneurship and recognize the risk takers.  Previous winners have included Peter Roskovich, owner of Adam’s Ribs restaurants and Black Diamond Catering in Fruitland, Ryan Miller, owner of The Deli, Last Call Liquors, and other successful businesses in Wicomico County, Dr. Kerry Palakanis, owner of the Crisfield Clinic, and Christopher Eccleston, owner of Delmarva Veteran Builders in Salisbury.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Nominees must be a small business owner or majority partner involved in day-to-day operations of the business
  • Business must be located in Wicomico, Worcester,  Somerset, Dorchester or Talbot counties
  • The company must employ 100 or fewer employees
  • The business must have been established locally for at least two (2) years
  • Must be a for-profit business
  • Business must be in the good standing with the state of Maryland

The top three nominees will be announced in October and the winner will be named at MCE’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year Award Banquet on Thursday, November 3, 2016, at Salisbury University.

“We all know at least one entrepreneur who works tirelessly day and night to make their business a success. We encourage you to nominate them. To recognize their sacrifices and hold them up as an example of how hard work pays off in the end. Entrepreneurship is about making something happen even if the odds are against you. It’s about the human spirit. And we want to honor that,” said MCE’s Executive Director George Koste. “We hope this will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to take that next step and start their own business, and we want them to know we are here to help.”

MCE created the Palmer Gillis Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2012. The award is named after Palmer Gillis, a Salisbury native, who has spent the last 36 years building his construction company into one of the largest general contracting firms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Along the way, he continues to give back through public service as a board member for numerous charitable causes and foundations. He has been a leading voice in trying to make his community a better place.

MCE (Maryland Capital Enterprises), a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization located on the second floor of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Building in Salisbury, has been working to promote entrepreneurship since its inception over a decade ago.  Through business counseling, small business loans, classes for business owners and other resources, MCE can help nurture those winning ideas and help turn them into profit.

To nominate an entrepreneur or to learn more about the award, visit

Washington College Announces $2 Million To Endow a New Entrepreneurial Sciences Position

Thanks to a $1 million grant from the Maryland Department of Commerce and a matching $1 million gift, Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society will have a newly endowed position aimed at creating entrepreneurial opportunities for students in the sciences.

Funding for the Chief of Entrepreneurial Science comes from the Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative (MEI), a program designed to spur basic and applied research in scientific and technical fields. It is joined by a $1 million gift from Louisa Copeland Duemling H ’10 GP ’10, to establish the Andelot Endowment Fund for the Center for Environment & Society.

The MEI grant is the largest single award of its kind that the State of Maryland has made to Washington College.

“Washington College is an economic driver for the Eastern Shore and the entire State of Maryland,” Commerce Secretary Mike Gill says. “The research its faculty conducts and the bright young minds they nurture fuel Maryland’s economy and keep our State humming. We are proud to partner with this institution and look forward to seeing the fruits of the new position for years to come.”

Duemling’s $1 million gift established the Andelot Endowment Fund for the Center for Environment & Society in 2015. In addition to enabling the College to secure the MEI funding, the endowment will help the College and CES support a variety of purposes, including research-based teaching and scholarship opportunities. For instance, the money may help pay the salary of a visiting scientist, support the cost of a research vessel and equipment to enable further research, or help qualified students pursue internships and other types of real-world learning.

“Louisa Duemling’s foresight and generosity have created a remarkable opportunity for the College,” says President Sheila Bair. “I have no doubt that her gift, and the State’s matching financial support, will result in exciting opportunities for our students to create innovative solutions to a host of environmental and scientific challenges facing our region and our world. This program is yet another example of how Washington College is applying the analytical and problem solving skills at the heart of a liberal arts education to the issues confronting our society, providing practical know-how for our students and generating growth for our local economy.”

John Seidel, director of the Center for Environment & Society, points out that this new position in entrepreneurial science is novel in liberal arts colleges. “We are very excited to engage students, faculty, and staff in practical problems, looking for cost-effective environmental solutions that can be designed, implemented, and marketed in such a way that we also generate economic activity in our communities.”

Doug Levin, currently deputy director of the CES, will become the first Chief of Entrepreneurial Science. Although the program will be linked to multiple disciplines at the College—including environmental science and studies, math and computer science, engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology—its initial focus will be on expanding and commercializing the Basic Observation Buoys, or BOBs, that form the backbone of Levin’s initiative, the Chester River Watershed Observatory (CRWO). Lauded as a national model, the CRWO uses state-of-the-art technologies to monitor every aspect of the Chester River while involving college and K-12 students, as well as teachers, on every level of that endeavor—from the hands-on engineering of building a buoy with its attendant electronics and gear, to gathering the data and making it publicly accessible.

In the past, Seidel says, a major impediment to using buoys on a meaningful scale has been their high cost. But Levin and his team have lowered the expense dramatically, making it possible to deploy them in large numbers. It also makes them desirable across the world, wherever there are issues of water quality. “We see a growing market for these kinds of cost-effective solutions,” Seidel says.

The Observatory’s ultimate aim is to connect surrounding communities to the waterway’s future and provide more thorough information on which to base decisions that will benefit the river and the Chesapeake Bay. Through the CES program called Rivers to the Bay, which has been funded for the last three years by the Maryland State Department of Education, the CES already has worked with nearly 60 educators in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties to teach data-gathering techniques and to develop K-12 lesson plans that incorporate the Observatory.

“The Observatory is a wonderful example of linking students at various levels to problems of national importance,” says Seidel. “There is no better way to learn than by doing, and the lessons these students learn will stay with them for a lifetime. Doug Levin and his colleagues are masters at making these connections, and now we have the opportunity to really capitalize on what they have built. The State of Maryland and visionaries such as Mrs. Duemling deserve enormous credit and our gratitude for making such opportunities possible.”

MEI was created by the General Assembly in the 2014 legislative session and in its first year has provided $8.3 million in funding to leverage $10.6 million in private donations toward nine new professorships. In addition to the Washington College grant, those positions include a post at Morgan State University, three posts at the University of Maryland, College Park and two each at University of Maryland Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University. MEI dollars can be used to pay salaries of newly endowed department chairs, staff, and support personnel in designated scientific and technical fields of study; fund related research fellowships for graduate and undergraduate students; and purchase lab equipment and other basic infrastructure and equipment.

Maryland 3.0: Food Trucks Are Hot Business in State, When They Find a Place to Park

When David Chapman decided to open a bright green food truck selling healthy meals in large bowls two years ago, he had a lot less competition on Baltimore’s streets.

“I was just tired of having a boss,” Chapman, 34, said of his decision to leave his career as a technician to start The Green Bowl, dishing out Bibimbap, a Korean-inspired rice dish, and other favorites to a loyal customer base.

Two years later, the number of food trucks roaming Baltimore in search of customers has more than doubled from 25 to 64, according to city transportation department data analyzed by Capital News Service.

Food truck owners say they expect their ranks to continue to grow, despite outdated street vending laws governing food trucks that could hamper future expansion in Baltimore.

Today, it’s possible to get a Greek lamb burger, Indian tandoori, a lobster mac and cheese cone and a hand-crafted caramel latte from the food trucks that roam the city. The Green Bowl, for example, appears on the stone-paved Thames Street at Fells Point every Friday around lunchtime, where Jimmy McNeely often grabs a meal.

“I come here mainly for the convenience, because it’s right next to my office. I either bring lunch from home or come here,” said McNeely, 25, who works at Morgan Stanley, a two-minute walk from The Green Bowl’s spot on Thames Street.

Ashley Ridgeway, 26, a security staffer at Morgan Stanley, said she has taken to eating lunch from food trucks because of their “creativity,” which sets them apart from standardized fast food offerings.

“They offer food that’s not on the menu in traditional restaurants,” Ridgeway said. “I had never bought lunch from food trucks until I began working here about a year ago. Now I’m a big fan.”

Ridgeway has tried four different food trucks that come to Fells Point on different days. Her favorites: those that sell barbecue and burgers, like The Smoking Swine on Tuesdays or Gypsy Queen Cafe on Fridays.

“I’m not a calories counter, so I’m not too concerned about the healthfulness of these food,” she laughed.

The food truck movement began about ten years ago in Los Angeles, led by a Korean barbecue truck called Kogi, according to the Associated Press. In the ensuing decade, food trucks have spread to cities large and small, becoming a critical part of the dining landscape.

Drew Pumphrey, a civil engineer turned food truck owner, normally serves 120 to 150 customers during lunch on a typical weekday from his barbecue truck, The Smoking Swine.

“It’s been far more profitable than we initially thought,” Pumphrey said, noting that he only needs to serve 60 people to turn a profit for the day.

Food trucks fill the sweet spot of “convenience food,” in between the two traditional eatery categories, fast food and restaurants. They serve tastier food than fast food chains, but at a faster pace than most sit-down restaurants, making it particularly appealing to the young and busy.

David Pulford, owner of UpSlideDown Dave, a three-year old barbecue truck in Baltimore, said most of his customers are urban professionals between 25 and 40.
“A lot of baby boomers still don’t quite get the idea. But some late baby boomers are very accepting [of] food trucks,” Pulford said.

Proximity Law Troubles Vendors

As food trucks become more popular, the gap between existing restaurant regulations and the needs of mobile eateries is becoming more apparent in Baltimore and other U.S. cities.

In March, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University published a case study on current food truck regulations in four U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C.

“Municipalities are being forced to revisit these regulations as issues arise over competitiveness, parking, sanitation, property and sales taxes, and proximity to brick and mortar businesses,” wrote Jessica Huey, the author of the case study report.

The “proximity law”, which prohibits food trucks from operating within 300 feet of any restaurant, is common in many cities, including Baltimore. Because hungry customers tend to congregate in restaurant-dense areas, the law puts food trucks at a disadvantage.

Sean Burnett, a spokesperson for the city transportation department, said the proximity law was originally created to protect both food trucks and restaurant owners from competing with each other.

“During the creation of the legislation, the focus was becoming more … friendly,” to small restaurants that are more vulnerable to competition than large restaurants, Burnett wrote in an email.

Food truck owners, however, are not convinced that food trucks and restaurants compete for the same customers.

“There is no proof that restaurants are negatively affected by food trucks at all. Food trucks sell a different league of food. It’s completely different from a restaurant,” Pumphrey said. “What we are in competition with are brown-bag lunches — whether people bring lunch to work or not.”

Restaurant owners see it differently. “I don’t see any disparity in demographics between food truck consumers and restaurants,” said Tony Minadakis, owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, a casual dining spot in downtown Baltimore.

For the last two years, the restaurant has also operated a food truck that tours the city every day. “We use this food truck more as a marketing tool than a profit generator. So far it has helped bring more people to our restaurant,” Minadakis said.

Parking Becomes a Major Challenge

To accommodate the needs of mobile food vendors, many cities have created “food truck zones” – parking spots that are designated for food trucks. Prince George’s County passed a law in October that created 12 “food truck hubs” in the county. Under old laws, food trucks were only allowed to do business at festivals and other one-day events.

Finding a parking spot during lunch hours is still a pain for vendors. The designated spaces are frequently filled. And if they park in a regular space, they run the risk of violating the proximity law by parking within 300 feet of a restaurant.
Baltimore first created food truck zones in 2011. In June 2014, the city council passed a bill promising to create more zones. But after almost 18 months, that promise has yet to be fulfilled.

In some cases, vendors have seen existing food truck parking spots vanish.
Chapman from The Green Bowl said there used to be a food truck space at the crossing of E. Pratt Street and Commerce Street, until a Shake Shack opened in February. The city removed the food truck space during construction. But after Shake Shack opened for business, the food truck spot wasn’t replaced.

“It’s what the city wants to do. In some cases, it’s obviously that it’s what the restaurant wants,” Chapman said.

The city transportation department said they had not removed any food truck spots due to new restaurants opening. But they have been forced to remove spots because of construction and utility maintenance work. Burnett said construction around the Shake Shack location is still ongoing, and the city is looking for a replacement spot for food trucks.

Baltimore currently has about 60 food trucks and nine 50-foot food truck spots plus a food truck park downtown, according to city records. A 50-foot spot can generally hold two food trucks. The trucks can also use regular street parking spaces as long as they comply with the proximity law.

Besides restaurants, food trucks are also restricted from parking within two blocks of schools, city markets, and football and baseball stadiums on game days.

The spot on Thames Street in Fells Point The Green Bowl favors is a regular street parking space — but there’s no guarantee it will always be available. Last month, The Green Bowl circled around for an hour and eventually had to move to another place three miles away.

“Now there are very few spots in town that are any good and worth parking at. It’s a mess.” Chapman said.

By Sissi Cao